The city of Maheshwar from its ancient times has its mention in the epics and mythological stories. Later to be made the capital city under the reign of Devi Ahilyabai Holkar. The story of flourishing Maheshwar is intertwined with the story of the queen. When she took over the reign and transformed it to what Maheshwar is today.
Ahilyabai was born in Chaundi village. In the present day, it falls under Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. She was the daughter of the head of the village. While other girls of that time were not allowed to school, she received a formal education. Malhar Rao Holkar, the commander of the Malwa region under the Marathas supposedly chanced to meet the young Ahilya.
Recognising her esteem and worth he married her to his son named Khanderao Holkar at the tender age of 8. Their married life of 21 years came to an end when Khanderao was killed during the capture of Kumbher. After a span of twelve years, Malhar Rao died. He was succeeded by his grandson and the only son of Ahilyabai, Male Rao. He too died within a short span of five years.
With all formal training to be a ruler, Devi Ahilyabai sought the permission of the Peshwas to take over the thrown. On having the permission she ruled the kingdom along with Tukojirao Holkar, the adopted son of Malhar Rao as the military chief.
She ruled her kingdom with a strong hand and tried to protect it from the plundering Muslim invaders. She was a philanthropist and used to give donations for many religious constructions and renovations. She can be credited for the development of Maheswar her capital and the city of Indore.
As per the legend, after the consecutive death of her husband, father in law and son, she wanted to bring control among her people. She being a great devotee of Lord Shiva, introduced the Shiva seal. Any political treaty, letter or order used to be signed and sealed with Shiva symbol. This created a religious fear among her people and kept them disciplined.
The most popular image of Devi Ahilya is mostly seen holding a Shiva Lingam. A beautiful life-size bronze statue of her is erected in front of the Rajwada in Maheshwar. This was her residence. Rajwada is an uncomplicated structure with aesthetic architectural beauty.
The old palanquin of the queen is preserved in front of the palace with her beautiful portrait. Beside is the sacred shiva temple where the Rani used to worship her lord. The green shaded surrounding is an epitome of peace. A couple of ancient canons are also preserved within its precincts.
Walking down the stairs take us to the Narmada Ghat. In between, there were ancient structures housing the famous handloom weaving of Maheswari. The bounded courtyard with the weavers busy in their job of traditionally creating their masterpiece. Permissions were not granted to enter the premises. There was a small room as an open outlet selling the in-house creation.
Then there was the intricately carved Ahilyeshwar and the Jaleshwar Temples beside the Narmada ghats. The ghat along with many other Ghats was constructed by the Rani. She was a great builder and built many temples, Ghats, Chatris and Dharamshalas.
The long Ghat beside the calm sacred river of Narmada provides an excellent view of the total Holkar fort. The palace was the administrative headquarter of Devi Ahilya during her reign. Now it has been converted into a hotel.
Sitting by the ghats and watching the sun gradually coming down to meet the waters is a moment of utmost serenity. Multiple boats anchored by takes visitors on a ride on the river with stops on few spots across the river. While the boatmen wait for their business. The vendors selling fish feed does a quick business.
Thousands of visitors and many devotees mostly elderly from around the country gathers here to pay a visit to the holy land of Devi Ahilya. While we sit by the bank and watch people come and go and the sun went on its downward journey.
Now it was time for us to go too. The hot sultry weather made us terribly thirsty. The stall selling the refreshing coconut water came to our respite. This is when a pair of an owl caught my attention. One sitting on a groove on the gateway while the other just above us on the tree. I turned my attention in capturing the little creatures when another came out of its crevice – a rose-ringed female parakeet. As always talkative and chirpy.
We soon finished all our activities of capturing the moments and finishing our drink. Finally bidding farewell to the holy land of the great lady. She ruled her kingdom for thirty long years overcoming all the personal and occupational hazards in her life. A journey memorable as well as motivating for all and especially for women.